The best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 91-100

Ok, I’m probably going to regret this, but here goes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rolling Stone’s recent blog regarding the 50 best non superhero graphic novels of all time. I thought it was a nice blend of populism & art house douchebaggery. And of course I thought they got a lot wrong. So….I decided to make my own list. And of course I couldn’t just keep it to 50. And of course even whittling down to 100 was hard. I’m going to post the list gradually over the next couple of weeks/months, but first, here are the rules/things to remember:

  • Any type of comic book could qualify to be on the list: single issues, trades, collections, original graphic novels, newspaper comic strips, mangas, webcomics etc. Sometimes one arc made the list, sometimes an entire series.
  • I tried to keep this to one book per creative team. Otherwise the list would have looked something like this: 1-20: Chris Ware. 21-40: Dan Clowes, etc.
  • This is not even remotely comprehensive, or even fair. For example, there aren’t that many comics on the list from before the 1970s. Or even before the 80s or 90s. It obviously isn’t because there weren’t great comics before then…that’s just when I fell in love with comics. Still, I think it’s a fairly diverse list.
  • There are probably at least 3 or 4 books on this list that could have/should have, been considered on a list of the best superhero books of all time. Bah.You and your rules.

P.S. Yes, I plan on tackling the superhero genre next. In about 6 months. Here goes.

100. Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman (Image, 2006)

nightlynews02p03-04-1289428545

This kind of slapped me in the face when it came out almost a decade or so ago. Although somewhat clumsy compared to some of the work that Hickman has done since, Nightly News still delivers a visceral gut punch, as well as valuable social commentary, that’s rare among modern mainstream comics. The only sad thing here, is how valid the criticisms that Hickman levels against modern media still are.

99. Birth Of A Nation by Reggie Hudlin, Aaron McGruder, and Kyle Baker (Three Rivers Press, 2005)

damnsoapopera

In 2005, it was still unpopular to criticize America Foreign Policy, especially as interpreted by George Bush & Dick Cheney. And so Birth of A Nation was a welcome breath of fresh air. In Kyle Baker, Aaron McGruder finally had a cartoonist talented enough to give his vicious barbs some depth, and Reggie Hudlin gave the project gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

98. Den by Richard Corben (Fantagor, 1973)

richard-corben-gallery-9

Before Cerebus, before Bone, and before Hellboy, Richard Corben’s Den put the E in epic. Part Princess of Mars adventure story, part Robert Howard Cthuluian horror yarn, Den easily escaped the handcuffs of the genres it was inspired by, due to the vibrancy & buoyancy of Corben’s artwork.

97. Elephantmen by Richard Starkings and various artists (Image, 2006)

hip_flask_and_Savanna_by_moritat

Even after 8 years on the stands, Elephantmen still manages to zig when you think it’s going to zag. Originally conceived as a fairly straight forward sci-fi detective story, Starking’s exploration of modern bioethics & geopolitics has evolved into a masterclass in world building, with some of the most exciting artists in modern comics providing a stunning visual centerpiece.

96. The Last Musketeer by Jason (Fantagraphics, 2008)

jason musketeer

I picked The Last Musketeer, but really any of Jason’s bizarre little anthropomorphic character-mysteries could have gotten the nod. Athos (the Last Musketeer, duh), is our hero here. He’s hundreds of years old, and down on his luck. A martian invasion gives Athos one last stab at heroism and redemption. Jason’s whimsical approach to adventure storytelling only serves to heighten the emotional impact.

95. Smoke by Alex De Campi & Igor Kordey (IDW, 2005)

smoke012

The political thriller is a relatively unexplored genre in the comics field, and De Campi’s take on an England not far from our own, remains one of the best of the modern era. This sits on the stands very nicely with other antifascism landmarks such as V For Vendetta, Maus, & The Dark Knight Returns, and Kordey turns out some of the tightest lines of his career.

94. The Adventures Of Barry Ween Boy Genius by Judd Winick (Oni Press, 1999)

Barry-Ween_4098

Although Winick’s reality TV stint in the early 90’s manages to still keep him from being taken seriously in comics, he really is a compelling character writer. Barry Ween was his first foray into fiction comics, and it still stands up as a thoroughly entertaining (not to mention extremely funny) adventure comic, but with a character focus not often seen in the genre. He deftly combines booby jokes and action storytelling with a serious peek into what utter loneliness looks like.

93. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse, 2004)

blacksad1-page5-case2

The idea of talking animals serving as a metaphor for mid-20th Century race relations is a compelling one, but it’s Guarnido’s lush painting that really is the star of this show. If it weren’t for how stunningly beautiful every page is, I’m not sure we would be considering this as much more than just another decent detective story. But each page is stunningly beautiful, and so a run-of-the mill gumshoe yarn becomes a gorgeous work of art. Such is comics.

92. DMZ by Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and various artists. (Vertigo, 2006)

dmz_box_art

Even years after it’s end, DMZ still serves as an effective response to the modern marriage between big government & multi-national corporations, and really shines a bright spotlight onto the current leaning towards isolationist tendencies that can be found all over current American politics. What makes this series special however, is that is gives us a lead character that is so likeable, and so empathetic, that we forget (for a time), just how serious the subject matter that we are discussing is. He makes us believe that we’re reading just another thriller, when in fact we are looking at a very possible future for our continent.

91. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011)

Green-River-Killer-Eisner-Jonathan-Case-565x441

Part autobiographical memoir, part true crime thriller, Green River Killer is one of those books that really shows just how transcendent the medium of comicscan be. Jeff Jensen is the writer here, and the son of one of the detectives assigned to the Green River Killer case.  The road he takes on here is utterly unsensational. There is no big “Ah Ha” moment, no violent chase scene. It’s the story of one part of a years-long investigation, and the toll it took on a family. This small story approach gives even more weight to the bigger story, showcasing just how important the details can be in storytelling. Jonathan Case is the perfect artist for this biography, utilizing shadow & light effectively, yet sparingly.

Next up: The Mob, giant killing, and Buddha!

Advertisements

Favourite Comics of 2010: Best Collections, Translations, & Reprints

As the end of the year is looming, it’s time for all of those annoying annual “best of” lists you don’t care about. My plan is that I’ll do separate lists on movies and music as well, but since my main focus this year has been comic books, I’ll be doing multiple lists for that medium (Best mini, best ongoing, best graphic novel, etc). Some lists may be “Top 10”, some may be “Top 15”, “Top 3” etc. Depends on the list. Also, this shouldn’t need saying, but this is MY opinion, and MY opinion only.  What’s “Best” is highly subjective, and so I give you my favourites.

My first list is quite vague, but what I’m referring here are collections of existing or rare material, or English translations of existing work.  It doesn’t matter when the source material was originally published, and so the inclusion of a title on this list could be because of the quality of the original material (20th Century Boys or Xenozoic comes to mind), or it could be because of the design of the collection itself (Batwoman, Beasts Of Burden, Wednesday Comics). In addition, some of my choices here have some new material in them as well, and  many of these are the first time much of this work has been collected for western audiences.

15) King Of The Flies Vol. 1 by Mezzo and Pirus (Fantagraphics)

This is an oversized collection of loosely connected short noir/horror stories, originally published in France. Fans of the witty writing and eccentric art detail of Charles Burns will find much to love here,

14) Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon (Archaia Press)

With all of the press that greeted this last year as the first graphic novel created expressly for the Amazon Kindle, it became easy to overlook the fact that this was an extremely well-written, hard-boiled crime noir. Lovers of Criminal, or The Last Days Of American Crime should run to pick this up.   

13) Tall Tales by Tom Sniegoski and Jeff Smith.

Those of you who have been waiting for new Bone material for the past 6 years might want to wait a little longer; There’s new material here, but not a lot. What this is, is essentially a reprinting of “Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails”, a prequel of sorts to Jeff Smith’s hugely influential Bone series, with a new “framing” story, and some other new adventures featuring that mythical figure mentioned in the original series, Big Johnson Bone. While there is enough new material to justify owning both versions, I would only recommend this to die-hard Bone fans.

12) Torpedo Vol. 1 & 2 by Enrique Sanchez Abuli & Jordi Bernet (IDW Publishing)

Torpedo is a series of gritty, but fun little crime tales that feature a thoroughly deplorable, yet highly entertaining villain. No, not Gordon Campbell. The stories are set in depression-era, crime-ridden New York, and Abuli and Benet hold a master class on how to tell small, action packed crime stories. Very good translation as well.

11)  It Was the War Of The Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)

Although Jaques Tardi is probably most well-known for his Adele Blanc-Sec series of comic books, it’s the War Of The Trenches that has solidified him as one of the world’s premier comic book creators. Objectivity is NOT the point here, and it’s one of the best treatises about the horrors of war that I’ve seen in comic book form.

10) The Original Johnson Vol. 1 by Trevor Von Eden (IDW/ComicMix)

Yes, THAT Trevor Von Eden. Of Batman, and Green Arrow fame. The Original Johnson was a recent discovery for me, and I’m so glad that I stumbled across it. It turns out that Von Eden has been busy creating this original graphic novel for the past few years for the ComicMix website. This paperback edition collects the first half of the series for the first time. It’s the story of Jack Johnson, a staggeringly important figure not only in the history of American boxing, but also in the history of American race relations. Readers familiar with Geoffery Ward’s magnificent Unforgivable Blackness won’t find much new here, and one gets the impression that Von Eden isn’t really interested in critical analysis so much as he is in penning a love letter to one of his heroes. That being said, the revelation of Von Eden as major force to be reckoned with in the field of graphic biographies is exciting news, and I would say that this is one of the best looking books of the year, despite the simplicity of the soft cover edition. I can’t wait for volume two, which promises material not released online yet.

9) The Amazing Screw-On Head And Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

There aren’t many single issue stories that justify the hardcover treatment, but this seminal 2002 humour/horror/adventure story is definitely one of them. Although I can’t say this that owning this would be essential if you already own the original, the inclusion of other rare Mignola material was more than enough to include it on this list.

8) Xenozoic Tales by Mark Shultz (Flesk Publications)

Another recent discovery by me, and one that I’m kicking myself for having missed out on for so long. This is a softcover collection of a fantastic late mid to late 80’s adventure series by Mark Shultz. It has everything you’d want a post-apocalyptic adventure serial to have: Curvy women, muscle cars, and rampaging dinosaurs. I loved the hell out of this book, and the Tarzan influences throughout made this one of the most entertaining adventure comics I’ve read this year. Perfect for new and old readers alike, as it contains all of the original run.   

7) Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics)

This Detective Comics arc was one of the most critically acclaimed comics of 2009, and for good reason. First of all, let’s discuss the art: Game changing. Seriously. J.H. Williams has raised the bar here in regards to how superhero comics can (and arguably should) look. Second of all, let’s talk about the art some more: It’s not many artists that can upstage Greg Rucka’s tightly plotted scripts. That’s not what happens here, but this is arguably one of the best looking superhero comics in recent memory so you can see how people would get that impression. In regards to the writing: Rucka’s Kate Kane is a likable, engaging character, with back story leaking from every page, and while I’m looking forward to the new series that JH Williams is doing next year, I worry that it won’t be the same without Rucka. This new hardcover edition is essential for superhero fans.

6) Beasts of Burden – Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)

Another one of 2009’s most recognized mini series is finally collected, this time with the original BOB stories from Dark Horse’s vaunted “Book Of….” Horror Anthology series from a few years back. The gist of this concept is this: Gang of talking dogs fight team up to solve paranormal crimes. Goofy right? Yes. But no. These stories ooze heart, and if you can read these without shedding a tear or two it’s quite possible that you don’t have a soul.

5) The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl (TX Comics)

 One of the most amazing comics on the interweb finally gets a hardcover collection. This one might be tough to track down, but it’s worth the price and effort. It deals with the adventures of a mute Sasquatch, and the talking animals that live in his forest. Fans of Bone, LOTR, or Narnia, would be well advised to give this a try, and Kershl is quickly becoming one known as one of the most unusual artists in the medium for a reason.

4)  Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juajo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

This is a collection of 3 stories originally published in Belgium and France. While 2 of them have been published in North America before, the third is seeing an English translation for the first time. Sucks if you already have the first two (guilty!) but awesome for new readers. Don’t let the talking animals  distract you: These are slick, but gritty detective stories that any noir fan could appreciate, not to mention featuring some of the most beautiful artwork that you’ll see in a comic book this year.

2 & 3) Pluto/20th Century Boy by Naoki Usawa (Viz Media)

These are two VERY different series, with very different subject matter. But because they are by the same creator, and because they are being seen by western audiences by the first time, I thought it made sense to put them together (Pluto is 8 volumes, and the last of those came out this year, 20th Century is about 12 volumes into a 22 volume story). Pluto is a reimagining of the seminal Astro Boy manga from the early ’60’s, while 20th Century Boys is a slow-building, conspiracy laden potboiler, with secrets and mysteries on every page. Highly recommended for those who love their mysteries peeled back slowly, but this is about as good as mystery comics get.

1) Wednesday Comics by various creators (DC Comics). This beautiful hardcover collection of one of 2009’s most exciting mainstream comic book experiments is one of the most beautiful books I own. Truly indispensable, not only for its experimanental exploration of the medium by some very interesting comic talent (Paul Pope, Karl Kerschl, Brian Azzarello, and many more), but also for some truly engaging superhero stories that are superior to most of what’s on the stands right now.

Next up: My favourite comic book mini series of the year!